Turning The Corners

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Just as the Nationals absorbed the tough news of the loss of Jayson Werth for the next 12 weeks, they received a huge lift. As Werth goes onto the DL, so returns their leader in batting average, RBI, slugging, OPS and co-team leader in home runs. Oh, and they also get Ryan Zimmerman back.

Adam LaRoche has been the Nationals best offensive player so far in 2012.

That’s right, that other guy returning to the Nats lineup is Adam LaRoche, maybe the most overlooked run producer in the National League. In his 24 games played this season, Washington’s first baseman has put up a slash line of .311/.392/.511, slugging four home runs and driving in 17 RBI. Extrapolate those numbers out of 150 games, and you have yourself a 25-home run, 106-RBI hitter in the heart of your lineup before you ever say the names Zimmerman, Morse, Werth or Harper.

LaRoche also provides Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base, much like Zimmerman does across the way. To add both bats back to the lineup – and both gloves back to the defense – makes a huge difference, especially in the wake of losing Werth. Plus, it means we will see the two of them hit together with Bryce Harper in the lineup for the first time, the youngster batting second in front of Zimmerman, then LaRoche in Pittsburgh tonight.

Zimmerman, by the way, is just 27, entering the prime of his career. Brooks Robinson, the Hall of Famer to whom manager Davey Johnson often compares Zimmerman, had the three highest WAR years of his career at ages 31 (7.9), 27 (7.8) and 30 (7.4), after never posting a mark higher than 5.8 before his 27th birthday. For what it’s worth, even Robinson only cleared a 4.6 WAR once the rest of the way in his career once he hit 32.

Zimmerman’s last two fully healthy seasons, he has posted a 6.9 (’09) and a 6.0 (’10). If his career follows Robinson’s, Zimmerman’s best years may well be his next few.

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